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Micromastery: Why one author thinks frequently learning a small skill is the key to happiness

How perfecting an omelette or growing a bonsai tree can make you happier

Olivia Blair
Wednesday 24 May 2017 11:01 BST

We are told that we “learn something new every day”, but how much is this actually true?

If you are in adulthood, have been in the same job for a relatively long amount of time, tend to hang around in the same social groups and watch the same thing then it is likely we are not learning new things as much as we think we should be.

This is where micromastery comes in. Micromastery is learning the expertise and skills of many small things instead of aiming to completely excel in just one area. The technique is the subject of a new book, Micromastery: Learn Small, Learn Fast and Find the Hidden Path to Happiness by the author, traveller and lecturer Robert Twigger, which even claims it could be a key to happiness.

“A micromastery is a small, discrete, repeatable skill that allows you to glimpse the greater possibilities of mastery available to you,” Twigger told The Independent. “It also has a certain show-off value thus gaining you valuable credibility and attention, which are not to be downplayed as serious encouragements to learning.”

Such ‘micromasteries’ Twigger features in the book include chopping through a log, making sushi, growing a bonsai tree, making a perfect omelette and improving your handwriting.

According to Twigger, by doing this we will be happier and our lives will be transformed. By using our brains, developing and learning new skills we do not get “stuck in our own head” and can become interested in, and masters of, whatever we want to.

For those who do want to learn something new, this can be appear daunting, especially considering the busy lives e lead which can make it feel like we don’t have the time to master the jobs we’re being paid to and the personal lives we enjoy. However, as the prefix suggests, it just takes small steps.

“As we get older our default setting becomes ‘off’ not ‘on’,” Twigger says. “We stop getting interested in new things because we haven’t got enough time or energy. This is an excuse but who can blame us when we hear we need 10,000 hours to ‘master’ something…Micromastery slices through all the excuses. You start with something so small and easy that it doesn’t impact on your life except positively.”

Her argues that when adulthood sets in we become masters of arranging our lives so not to learn anything more.

“We become bosses, control freaks, home lovers. We rationalise our anxieties and fears as something normal rather than something to be overcome. But life without steep learning curves is no life at all.”

Author Robert Twigger

Twigger formulated the art of micromastery after living in Japan for three years and observing the idea of ‘kata’ which is breaking down things into repeatable and perfectible elements irrespective of talent. Using this method he became a black belt in aikido martial arts within a year, learned “battlefield first aid”, ran with bulls and hunted giant snakes – all in the name of journalistic commissions.

“All this taught me that to learn fast you need to find your own way in; and that experts always have entry-tricks that make it easier to get started,” he says.

However, after returning from Japan he sat down to write a novel which ended up taking seven years which massively impacted upon his happiness. He re-found micromastery when he remembered how much he loved cooking but when simply watching the expert chefs on Masterchef began to feel overwhelmed.

“I felt life was escaping from me,” he says. “One of the few things I still enjoyed was cooking but I was barely any good at it… But then I recalled that a common test of a chef is how good an omelette they can make. So the insight was: why not forget all the other stuff, the boring ‘basics’ and start with just making a perfect omelette. I interviewed chefs, did lots of reading and experimenting and watching Youtube videos and that’s how micromastery was born.”

As explained earlier, micromastery can help contribute to happiness, according to Twigger. One way it can do this is by being the “opposite” to what the writer calls “global pessimism”: “The buried implicit belief that the meaning of life is all about consuming – either things or kicks – and winning some kind of lottery (either through luck or talent) and nothing more”.

So, all in all, micromastery is about reconnecting to even the smallest parts of whatever you want it to be, there is no end and there is no one way to be successful, like pessimism would have you believe.

As Twigger writes in his book: “Micromastery kicks the ass of pessimism every time”

Micromastery: Learn Small, Learn Fast and Find the Hidden Path to Happiness by Robert Twigger, published by Penguin, is out now.

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